Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Arthropoda
Class Insecta 
Order Lepidoptera
Superfamily Papilionoidea
Family Nymphalidae 
Subfamily Danainae
Tribe Ithomiini


Ithomiini contains some 370 species, named "clearwing" because their wings are mostly transparent.

The butterflies live in humid forests from the southwestern United States to Argentina, where they seek plants containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids. The alkaloids give the butterflies a distinctive smell and taste that makes them unpalatable to predators; human expeditions in areas populated with Ithomiini detect their presence by smell before sight. The butterflies move slowly between plants and, when alighted, are nearly invisible. Laboratory observations of predation have failed uniformly because nothing - monkeys, birds, spiders - will eat them.

The membrane of the wings is transparent because it lacks the colored scales that give other lepidopterids their characteristic color and leave dust on the hands when touched. The most famous and photographed Ithomiinid is the greta oto, also known confusingly as the glasswing butterfly. This species has a broad brown tract at the front tip of each wing which is traversed by a white stripe.

Clearwing butterflies are believed to be indicators of biodiversity because several species typically exist within a small area. Their common habit of isolating alkaloids for chemical defense defines them as Mullerian mimics, similar to bees and wasps which are close in appearance and share a defense mechanism.

One imagines that European colonists traversing the neotropical forests of South America caught glimpses of them in the shafts of light breaching the canopies, where superstition might have defined them as indicators of magic. Today, researchers photographing them on wilted borages recognize their magic as the expression of alleles, knowing that in the right context the two breeds of superstition are indistinguishable - Mullerian mimics of one another.




Wikipedia. "Ithomiini.", 4/15/15.

---. "Butterflies and Moths of North America.", 4/15/15. "Clearwing Butterfly.", 4/15/15.

Rainforest Expeditions. "Clearwing Butterflies.", 4/15/15.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.